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Learning episode 4:  


Purpose and use of this learning episode: notes, Forum topics and comments for The War of the Worlds and HG Wells 


The notes, below, were given to secondary students as their fourth learning episode in the 'enemy within' theme area. Two versions of the  film of The War of the Worlds were used with students as a comparison between the major themes and treatments.


The learning episode starts with the films given out on CD-ROM to those studying as flexible learning (compliant with Copyright guidelines) and shown in the classroom using a computer and overhead projector for others. The discussion occured in the myclasses Forum area and some images and links from the original have been changed for the changed copyright guidelines for this space, outside the government school intranet, as noted in the page 'about the mySF Project'.


Image of alien cartoon character for le4Index

Forum topics for discussion

HG Wells' novel 'War of the Worlds'

Wells' use of science and pseudo-science
The films of 'War of the Worlds'

Resource List

Readings and Links

Ongoing readings and links


The points at the start of these notes are to be discussed in the Forum area. You are asked to jump to the Forum area, using the link here and making a comment in the appropriate Forum thread. Please remember, your participation in discussions is expected in this study, as part of your overall participation.


Forum topics for discussion:



In the 1952 film of the novel, religion seems to play a major part. For instance the special scenes of the church prayers at the end of the film and the zapping of the clergyman at the beginning are given special emphasis. What role does religion and belief play in the 1952 movie?


Are there positive results from the alien invasion, for instance the coming together of all nationalities against a common foe?


Is HG Wells against technology? After all, the superior Martian technology kills thousands of humans and it is not technology but biology that defeats them. Is HG Wells warning us of the dangers of technology?


What are the major differences between the 1952 and the 2005 versions of the War of the Worlds?


Please note, the entire electronic version of HG Wells' 'War of the Worlds' is available from a link in this property at the end of this web page, for those students who would like to extend their studies and read this very important and early SF novel.


Background to Wells' novel War of the Worlds:


HG Wells is described as one of the most influential writers of the Science Fiction (SF) genre. The War of the Worlds has become a model for countless alien invasion narratives. Trained as a biologist, Wells brought some scientific interests to his fantasy, called Scientific Romance at the time. At the end of the nineteenth century England was a dominant world power and Wells may have identified England’s power with its advanced military technologies. Set in England at its Imperial peak, the novel “dramatizes humanity's fragile place in the universe, a theme that obsessed [Wells] from the first” (Hughes & Geduld in Nicholls & Clute, 1995). In the UK, writers imagined aliens as Darwinian competitors, natural enemies of mankind. HG Wells “cast the alien as a genocidal invader -- a would-be conqueror and colonist of Earth” (Nicholls & Clute, 1995).


Science fiction critic Rose notes that, “What seemed far-fetched about the book was less the idea of creatures from Mars - scientists had been speculating about Martians for 200 years - than the notion that Britons might find themselves defenseless against some technologically superior power. Britannia ruled a quarter of the Earth; its military prowess was as unchallenged as the United States' is today. Yet Wells had the audacity to imagine its people as defenseless as the natives they were subjugating” (Rose, 2005).


Many current writers see the remaking of War of the Worlds in 2005 by Spielberg as proof of the importance of the novel's themes today. Perhaps this relates to the sense of powerlessness felt even by the strongest Western nation's in the face of an invisible enemy - terrorism. The idea that a whole society could be overturned in a flash is as important an idea “in the post-9/11 world as it was in HG Wells’ day” (Luckhurst, 2005).


Wells' use of science and pseudo-science in his writings, including War of the Worlds:


The popular view of Wells is that he was one of the first writers of fiction to use scientific information and a scientific method to extraordinary, dramatic events. Certainly, Wells had training in biology and understood the scientific method. He also had great interest in scientific speculation, as seen in the introduction to the novel War of the Worlds (1898) where he detailed the distance from Mars to Earth in some orbits, noted the temperature on Mars and then leapt into an account of microbial life on Earth. This was not usual for writngs of the time, of course, as it would not be usual for mainstream fiction, that is, the fiction not put into the shelves marked 'Fantasy and Science Fiction' in bookshops and libraries.


Luckhurst noted that many writers believe that Wells used ‘real science’ and this distinguished him as a SF writer, what the writer Conrad called a “Realist of the Fantastic” (Luckhurst, 2005:41). However, the science seen in War of the Worlds may have seemed startling at the time but it could not now be called central to the narrative as is found in modern SF, or even accurate according to what we now know. HG Wells' writings are closely aligned to what is called the Gothic or Romance genres of the time, and many critics talk about his writings, including the War of the Worlds, as scientific romance.


The critic Roberts (2000) noted that HG Wells (1866-1946) was, “the pivitol figure in the evolution of scientific romance into modern science fiction.” Wells was fascinated with “encountering difference embodied in material form”. Wells had a “lucid sense of the symbolic possibilities of the imaginative novum." (Roberts, 2000:61). In this quote from  Roberts it is important to focus on the idea of 'novum', that is, the new or original. In this case the novum is the idea of the aliens invading with their vastly superior technology.


It is the blend of one, central novum and the use of scientific speculation (or pseudo-scientific ideas) that often distinguishes SF from other genres.


The film of War of the Worlds:


The film of War of the Worlds was made in 1952, based on The War of the Worlds (1898) by HG Wells, but with the action translated from England to 1950s America. The film has been called “an excellent piece of SF cinema. The War of the Worlds is one of the classic SF films of the 1950s, and successfully brought Wells' vision to the screen. At the time of filming the special effects were amazing moments of camera trickery” (Mann, 2001). Critics say the film brought “horror to very familiar doorsteps”.


The 2005 film of War of the Worlds by Spielberg referred closely to the original novel at least in terms of the Martian craft and their weaponry, even though the setting was again updated to a modern American context. As with the original film, special effects were very notable and made a huge impact on the viewer, as seen in the review link found in the Week 4 property on this portal. Instead of the corny love interest in the 1952 film, the 2005 film includes an estranged father’s renewed contact with his children.


The 2005 film is notably ‘intertextual’. In this case this means that the film refers to both the novel as might be expected, but also to the earlier film. The grandparents waiting at the top of the stairs when the father and son are reunited at the end of the 2005 film are the lead actors of the 1952 film. Likewise, scenes, images and places from the 1952 film are used in the 2005 film, even when they are not found in the original novel.



Resource List:


Luckhurst, R.  (2005). Science Fiction. Polity Press: Cambridge, UK. ISBN 0-7456-2892-3.


Nicholls, P., & Clute, J., (Eds.)  (1995). Grolier Science Fiction: the multimedia encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Danbury, Danbury, CT: Grolier Electronic Publishing.


Roberts, A.   (2000). Science Fiction: the new critical idiom. Routledge: London.


Rose, F. (2005). 'Close Encounters of the Worst Kind'. Wired Magazine. Issue 13.06, June 2005. Retrieved 22 May, 2006 from


Wells, H.G. (1898). War of the Worlds. Retrieved 22 May, 2006 from,+H.+G.+(Herbert+George),+1866-1946+:+The+War+of+the+Worlds+1898&query=wells&id=WelWorl



Readings and links:



An excellent coverage of HG Wells and the War of the Worlds, seen in Wikipedia



Ongoing readings and links:



Electronic text of 'The Father Thing' by Phillip K Dick


Electronic text of Damon Knight's 'Stranger Station'


Electronic text of Octavia Butler's 'Bloodchild'


Podcast 1 of overview of Aliens in SF, 5M mp3 file for download and playing


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